JFK Assassination: Irrelevant Trivia
Recent Robert Kennedy Jr. inspired Assassination coverage has included a piece of trivia ridiculously overblown by uninformed writers as some kind of dramatic breakthrough in the 60-year-old case. We refer to the long pieces about an aging former Secret Service agent admitting he found the bullet in the limousine in which JFK was killed. He placed the bullet, which appeared to be pristine, on the stretcher that bore Governor John Connally’s wounded body into the Parkland Hospital where JFK was pronounced dead.
First of all, the bullet on the stretcher was known to be strange. It did not appear to have been fired. And it was obvious from the beginning that somebody put it there. Now we know the explanation for that piece of trivia. And trivia it is because it does not destroy the credibility of the Warren Commission Report. That credibility was already destroyed not long after it was published in 1965, two years after the assassination.
I wrote about the challenges to the commission, which found that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, when I was still a newspaper columnist in 1965. Later at Philadelphia Magazine, I watched over his shoulder as Gaeton Fonzi wrote that Arlen Specter, later a U.S. Senator, stumbled all over himself trying to explain his own “magic bullet theory” that was necessary to show Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. The Warren Commission had given Specter the impossible job of showing how Oswald could have acted alone.
By the 1970s, the Warren Commission was discredited and the CIA had become suspect in rigging it. It had been learned that Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren was just a figurehead; he had little to do with the actual report. And several of the Commission’s members-only signed the final report under pressure. They did not believe it. Further, the man who controlled the commission behind the scenes was Allen Dulles who had been head of the CIA and had been fired by JFK after the Cuban Bay of Pigs disaster. Kennedy believed the CIA knew it would be a failed invasion, and was trying to force him to involve American troops, which he refused. It appeared that Dulles continued to strongly influence the CIA even after he left. And Kennedy privately vowed to destroy the entire spy apparatus. Ironically, his death was an example of Kennedy’s concern that the CIA was a government unto itself.
It was also learned that the Warren Commission’s charge was not to determine who committed the crime, but to show how Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Evidence grew that the fatal shots had come not from Oswald’s alleged perch in a building behind Kennedy, but from much closer on the grassy knoll in front of the car. The numerous witnesses to that had been ignored by the Warren Commission.
By the early 1970s, doubts about the lone assassin conclusion were so widespread that a new congressional look was opened by the Church Committee, headed by Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker. Schweiker, recalling Gaeton Fonzi’s work at Philadelphia Magazine, hired him as an investigator working in South Florida, seeking connections between Oswald and the CIA through anti-Castro groups. Schweiker described Oswald as “having the fingerprints of intelligence all over him.”
Schweiker was no longer involved, but he likely had a hand in picking its first director, Richard Sprague, a brilliant Philadelphia prosecutor. But Sprague was quickly forced out by conservatives on the committee when he refused to sign a secrecy agreement with the CIA. His replacement trusted the CIA, which he later regretted. He wanted to pin blame on organized crime and wasted a lot of Fonzi’s time to prove it. He questioned Fonzi’s findings that a credible anti-Castro leader saw Oswald with a top CIA man in Dallas shortly before the assassination. He also downplayed Fonzi’s assertion that known CIA operatives (Watergate burglar Frank Sturgis foremost among them) wasted his time with tantalizing tips that turned out to be bogus. Those distractions further convinced Fonzi that the CIA was involved in both the assassination and the elaborate cover-up.
The committee’s final report, much of which Fonzi wrote, did say the assassination was a conspiracy, negating the Warren Commission’s lone assassin claim. However, it did not name the conspirators or even mention Fonzi’s dramatic discovery of the CIA connection to Oswald. Fonzi (and other investigators) were greatly disappointed that years of work were being wasted. Fonzi decided to write what amounted to a dissenting opinion. It identified the CIA man seen with Oswald as David Atlee Phillips, chief of the CIA’s Western Hemisphere Operations. Fonzi’s “The Last Investigation” originally ran in a three-part series in our Gold Coast Magazine and The Washingtonian, where it resulted in a suit by Phillips against that magazine. The magazine won a costly case.
Gaeton Fonzi discovered a connection between Lee Harvey Oswald and this high-ranking CIA man, David Atlee Phillips, shortly before the assassination.
Fonzi on his own spent the next decade furthering his investigation, and in 1993 published a book that is still in print. Upon his death in 2012, it was cited by the New York Times as one of the best books on the assassination.
The recent pieces about the stretcher bullet did not mention the 1970s Congressional investigation which discredited the Warren Commission and made the bullet merely an irrelevant piece of trivia. So much for the state of coverage of one of the most important stories of our time.
Just as this rant was being completed there came news that a long-anticipated documentary was ready for viewing. It will appear on November 22 - the 60th anniversary of the JFK assassination. "Four Died Trying" is a reappraisal of the murders of JFK, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. If that seems an odd coupling, the common thread is the assertion that all four of these crimes in the 1960s bore the fingerprints of the CIA or other government-related groups. Our interest, of course, is primarily the Kennedys. The prologue will be the first of what will be more than 20 installments.
The prologue does a beautiful job of explaining the motivation for the murder of what most people regarded as a popular young president. With the CIA, he was anything but - a traitor who was a threat to national security and to the existence of the CIA itself. It includes some rare film, including a young Congressman Kennedy, after a 1951 visit to what was then French Indochina, explaining that the French could not preserve their colony in the face of the Vietnamese desire for independence. This was a decade before our entrance into Vietnam. It supports claims that President Kennedy wanted to pull out of Vietnam as soon as he could safely do it politically - one of the reasons he was killed.
The team of Libby Handros (producer) and John Kirby (director) has been working on this project for seven and a half years. They interviewed more than 120 people. The producers met with me six years ago, discussing my late partner Gaeton Fonzi' s landmark work. I will likely show up in a future installment devoted to Fonzi's role.
This series should be a must-viewing for anyone wanting to pierce the fog of contradictory reporting on great events of the 1960s. The initial presentation will be streamed on Apple TV, but will then be available various platforms. Kirby says a promotional campaign reaching millions of people through social media will soon be underway. Can’t wait.